Some fundamental usability issues

chombee chombee at nerdshack.com
Thu May 8 02:24:12 BST 2008


Warning: this is a rant. But hopefully we can discuss any developments
in Ubuntu in the direction of what I'm talking about. I hope this was
the best place to post this.

* * *

I have little hope that much can happen about this because it would be
such a major overhaul, but... my friend was just writing a blog post in
wordpress 2.5, in the epiphany browser, in ubuntu 8.04. She wrote for
about an hour, was very happy with it, then accidentally highlighted the
entire text and pasted the contents of the clipboard in its place. I
immediately told her to stop and press Ctrl+Z. Unfortunately there seems
to be a bug, that only occurs with wordpress, and then only if you are
using Epiphany, that means Undo does not work. (I have reported it.)
Wordpress.com even autosaves your work, but it apparently auto-saved
again after she had destroyed the content, and it does not keep a
history of autosaves, only the most recent one. Pretty unlucky all in
all.

But there is so much fundamentally wrong usability cruft going on here.
This sort of incident should not be possible.

* The user should never have to press Save. There should not be any save
buttons anywhere on the computer. Saving is something the computer can
do automatically all the time, the user never needs to know. Save
buttons were introduced back when saving a file to disk required the
computer to freeze for several seconds. They are no longer needed, and
haven't been for some time! The GTK text editor Scribes is one program
that handles all your saving for you. Any others?

* This whole business of highlighting some text then pressing a button,
whether it's paste or just a normal key, and having the highlighted text
replaced, should be thrown out. This seems to be how it works in every
text editor, but I think it's rarely what the user wants to do, and in
the rare cases where you do want to do that you can stand one extra key
press: highlight, delete, then paste or type in the replacement. **The
user's content is sacred** and it should never be deleted unless the
user explicitly selects it and presses delete.

* The whole paradigm of embedding semi-functional text editors in web
browsers. I mean semi-functional when compared to the system's
stand-alone text editor application. For how many years have people been
typing out emails into web browsers, pressing Send, getting a server
error, and losing their work? There must be a better way. The web
browser should just integrate with the system's text editor so that text
is not lost when the browser or some Internet server messes up.

With these new flashy web 2.0 text editors we're seeing now that do
things like autosave, like ironically the wordpress editor, this
particular problem might be alleviated.

* The system should automatically keep a history of the users files! We
have masses of hard drive space now. At least for text files and office
documents, surely this is doable! With my own work, I keep it all in a
git repository which I commit to every few hours. So no matter what I
do, even if I manage to completely delete a file, I can still get it
back. Even if I delete the repository itself *and* the working copy, or
destroy my computer, I still will not lose my work as I have it
distributed on several machines which are all kept in sync.

Using git is ridiculously difficult and technical by the standards of
most normal users, but I see no reason why a versioning system could not
be built in to the OS or the desktop environment and function completely
without user interaction until the user wants to recover a previous
version of something. And that can be made very simple and easy to do.
Imagine it being virtually impossible to lose any of your work, ever.
Isn't that a killer feature? Why hasn't this happened?





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